In May 1961, then American Vice-President Johnson visited South Vietnam. He left the country convinced of the need to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia by applying the United States money and military to this effort. He was able to act upon his conviction when he became president in 1963. Later, at the height if the Vietnam War and the deepest point of his unpopularity, he quipped to an aide his belief that if he could only meet face to face with Ho Chi Mien the war could end.
It was hubris of a larger than life man, whose great domestic achievements were overshadowed by his great foreign policy mistake. Sadly, President Obama is not immune from similar hubris.
Recent news reports of multiple unanswered personal letters to Iran’s Supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, and White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes leaked comment that a nuclear deal with Iran is a top priority for Washington and, if achieved, a major foreign policy success for US President Barack Obama add to this sense of hubris. It also indicates a degree of ‘rush to glory’ that only is made more apparent with Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent statement that gaps between the sides had narrowed ahead of a November 24 deadline as the ground-breaking deal with Iran heads into the critical three weeks left for an accord.
Supporters of President Obama within American politics and American academia can correctly point that back door channels and written letters are tools of personal diplomacy tried and in many cases proven correct. President Reagan wrote a private letter to his counterpart in the Soviet Union. Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush at varying times during their tenure in office had third party backdoor channels with North Korea and Syria. However, there is a point of difference in this comparison: firm, uncompromising positions. By indicating a readiness for an agreement that leaves Iran with some of its uranium enrichment capabilities, the US has compromised on its original policy. Having personal correspondence between world leaders is necessary, if a bit “old school”, but it only is effective if the exchange is mutual. In President Obama’s case, Khamenei has not written back to any letter sent. Also reports have recently surfaced that indicate Iran has not fully been complying with parts of the agreement, though this appears not to trouble the American administration.
The rush to realize a deal points to a disturbing lack of foresight and ignores Israel’s view that a deal must dismantle Iran’s entire military nuclear capacity. The allied position is not taken seriously enough, because the ‘greater’ cause for a deal is deemed more important. This different position is a key point in the friction between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government. It also indicates hubris on the part of the American president and his Secretary of State.
This rush to glory exposes a critical ally of the US in the region to potential attack. Also, a wish for short term accolades is dangerous to the long term national security of the United States. As the larger than life hubris of President Johnson hurt the US and its allies in Southeast Asia, the larger than life hubris of searching for an Iranian deal by President Obama may just hurt the US and its allies in the Middle East.